“This is not just about racing,” says “Monarch” (Michael Keaton), pod-caster and wealthy organizer of the DeLeon, talking about his illegal, high-stakes California drag race. The DeLeon is also about two competitors settling a score. “Need for Speed” is about racing – and revenge, defiance of authority, male-bonding, fear of heights, people who take off their clothes, and high-speed automotive stunts. Despite all that, it’s one of the stupidest movies of 2014.
“Driving like a maniac is not going to work,” says Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots), riding shotgun with Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) in his high-speed Mustang Shelby. If only the makers of this movie had listened to Julia, but no, everyone – well, almost everyone – in “NFS” drives like a maniac. And, as Julia could have told them, it doesn’t work.
Aaron Paul is low-key Tobey Marshall, struggling to keep Marshall Motors – his late father’s business – going. Tobey is not exactly a straight arrow, competing in illegal street races through downtown Mt. Kisco, N.Y. His ex-girlfriend Anita (Dakota Johnson) is now with Tobey’s wealthy, amoral chief racing competitor, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). When Anita’s younger brother Pete (Harrison Gilbertson) dies in a street race with Tobey and Dino, and Tobey takes the rap and goes to prison, the film’s revenge plot kicks in.
Others in the cast include Imogen Poots as assertive Julia Maddon, English car buyer who knows more about the DeLeon than Tobey, and Michael Keaton as “Monarch,” annoying pod-caster, sponsor and commentator for the big race. Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek and Ramon Rodriguez add modest interest as Tobey’s diverse, loyal and resourceful crew, Benny, Finn and Joe Peck. (Question: How does Benny get those TV traffic and military helicopters?)
“Need for Speed” has fast cars, races, chases, and horrific crashes, but not much else going for it. Director (and former stuntman) Scott Waugh knows how to choreograph cars, but gets no help developing characters or directing dialog from brothers George and John Gatins’ inept script. We should learn Tobey and Julia’s back stories during their 45-hour cross-country road trip, but the script give them little to say. (Question: Can you drive 45 hours and stop only once to use a restroom?) See “NFS” only if muscle cars are your passion and watching them crash and burn is your idea of entertainment. If not, stay home.
Rated PG-13 for reckless and illegal street racing, crash sequences, nudity and language, “NFS” runs a long 130 minutes. As film critic Roger Ebert used to say about foolish films like this one, “I hated, hated, hated this movie.”
“Need for Speed,” fast cars, dumb script,
It ought to be unlawful,
And it would be laughable,
If it weren’t so awful.